Five priests for the Salina Diocese will celebrate anniversaries this year. Celebrating 60 years of priesthood are Father Alvin Werth and Father Roger Meitl. Celebrating 50 years is Capuchin Father Earl Befort and Father James Dallen. Celebrating 25 years is Father Henry Saw Lone.
Father Alvin Werth
Father Werth said his hometown pastor, Msgr. Frank Reidel, who was assigned to St. Anthony Parish in Schoenchen, encouraged his priestly vocation. “When I grew up, I was on the farm west of Schoenchen,” he said. “I was a little withdrawn, shy. I grew out of that, and enjoy serving, celebrating Mass, and working with people.” Msgr. Reidel talked with his family as he neared the end of high school, and encouraged Father Werth to enter the seminary. The parish priest was a constant in the life of his family.
“He married my parents, was there for my baptism, all the sacraments and was there for my ordination,” he said. “He also paid for my entire education. He sponsored me all the way through.”
Father Werth attended seminary at Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo. The trip from his western Kansas farm to Kansas City was an adventure. “It wasn’t by car in those days. It was by train,” he said. “We left Hays about midnight. We went to Kansas City on Union Pacific and got there about seven in the morning.” Father Werth was ordained April 6, 1959, at St. Anthony Church in Schoenchen by Bishop Frederick Frecking. He was assigned to 19 parishes across the diocese during his service as a priest. “I found people to be very good in all the parishes,” Father Werth said. “There are some differences, but as a whole, they respected the priests.”
One hobby he enjoyed throughout his life is flying. “I got my pilot’s license in ’69,” Father Werth said. “When I was at Oberlin, we formed a club and 10 of us bought a small, used plane. “I used the plane to go to Atwood a number of times and also to go to meetings in Salina.” He was a member of the National Association of Priest Pilots, and gathered regionally and nationally with fellow priest pilots. “It was a good experience with the priest pilots because I got to meet priests from all over the United States. We still do meet,” he said. “I sold my plane last year. As I’m getting rid of things, I’m now working on getting my angel wings.”
While he formally retired in 2003, Father Werth said he still enjoys being in parishes. “Now, it’s my greatest joy to substitute in parishes,” he said.
St. Anthony Parish in Schoenchen hosted a joint celebration for Father Werth and Father Befort, for their 60th and 50th anniversaries, with Mass and breakfast on April 28. Father Werth retired to Hays in 2003.
Father Roger Meitl
Also celebrating 60 years as a priest is Father Meitl. A Leoville native, he said his family was involved in Immaculate Conception Church. “I was working with the parish and seeing a great need there,” he said of his vocational discernment. “I just kind of got involved there and enjoyed it.” This led to Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo., followed by Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.
During his active ministry, he served in more than two dozen parishes across the Salina Diocese. “There’s a variety (of work in parishes),” he said. “I liked visiting with people in their homes. That was enjoyable, getting acquainted and helping them to be more active with their faith.” He moved to an assisted living home in Wichita upon his retirement in 2006.
Capuchin Father Earl Befort
Celebrating 50 years as a priest is Capuchin Father Befort, a native of Schoenchen, who has served most of his tenure in Ellis County. “I was sent to Thomas More Prep in May of 1970 and have worked there as a teacher, coach, administrator and chaplain ever since,” he said.
He had several assignments, including Catharine, Antonino, Schoenchen and St. Joseph in Hays. “I still serve in those three little parishes,” he said of Catharine, Antonino and Schoenchen. His path to the priesthood included several high school years at St. Francis Seminary in Victoria. “My older brother was in the seminary and that interested me but I just wanted to see for myself,” Father Befort said. “I don't think anyone knows for sure until they give it a try.
The five decades spent as a priest have been enjoyable. “The highlight (of the priesthood) is administration of the sacraments,” Father Befort said. “Over the years I have literally done hundreds of funerals and weddings along with many baptisms. One is ordained to give the sacraments and I have been most blessed to do so.” Working collaboratively with both the Capuchin friars and priests, as well as diocesan priests has been a fruitful ministry. “I deeply appreciate the many friendships I have made,” Father Befort said. “It has been and often is hard work, but the rewards have been great.”
Father James Dallen
Also celebrating 50 years is Father Dallen, who resides in Spokane, Wash. Another young vocation, he was a high school student at St. Francis Seminary in Victoria and St. Mary’s College High School in St. Mary, Ky. “I really never gave serious thought to anything other than priesthood,” he said. “I was drawn to it very young: I built a chapel in the hayloft of the barn and played (prayed?) Mass there.”
He was the parochial vicar at St. Andrew Parish in Abilene for several years before embarking on an academic path. “I’ve been especially interested in the interplay between faith and culture and the Church’s role in society and thus in the Church’s social teaching,” he said. “Many of my publications, papers and workshops have involved the sacrament of penance because of my dissertation on its post-Vatican II reform. The two vocations of priest and theologian have been closely related for me.”
He initially began his teaching career at Rosemont College in suburban Philadelphia from 1975-82. “Bishop Kucera, who had been a college president, encouraged me to find a position where I could teach on the graduate level and I interviewed in several places,” Father Dallen said. He taught at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. from 1982-2007. “Coincidentally, I was ordained to the priesthood on the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, June 21,” Father Dallen said. “I especially enjoyed working with grad students preparing for ministry, directing the Master of Divinity and the M.A. in Pastoral Ministry programs, and that was my primary focus.”
In addition to his academic work at the university, he served as a sacramental minister at nearby parishes. “My motto on my ordination invitation was ‘I am in your midst as one who serves,’ ” he said. “I have tried to remain faithful to that, whatever the ministry I’ve been involved in. I always maintained pastoral involvement while teaching. I have been involved with campus ministry, parish ministry and adult education/formation and Hospice. “I continue to lead Sunday Mass at a retirement facility in Spokane and to serve as a volunteer chaplain for Hospice (regular clients and on-call for sacramental ministry). That sometimes leads to other involvements with families, including even jail visits!”
In addition to teaching, Father Dallen is the author of 14 books. “My favorites are ‘The Reconciling Community’ (on the sacrament of penance, often used as a university and seminary textbook and in print since 1986) and ‘The Dilemma of Priestless Sundays’ (on the problem of parishes and facilities without regular Eucharist because of the current ordination discipline and the consequent priest shortage),” he said. “What will probably be my last scholarly publication is an essay in a book coming out from Brill (The Netherlands), a paper I was invited to give at a conference in Germany two years ago. Titled “The Reconciling Community: The Rite of Penance, Past and Present,” it looks into the sacrament’s possibilities for flexibility and compassion to support Pope Francis’ call for accompaniment and discernment for couples in irregular situations.”
While he retired from full-time teaching at the beginning of 2008, Father Dallen teaches alternate summers in the masters in Pastoral Ministry Program at the University of Portland. “I had been involved with that program since it was in the planning stages,” he added. When not immersed in academics, he said he enjoys gardening, carpentry, cooking, reading science fiction and traveling. “I love to travel!” Father Dallen said. “I’ve visited 43 states and over 40 countries. The most recent was in February: Egypt.”
Father Henry Saw Lone
The final anniversary is Father Henry Saw Lone, who celebrated his 25th anniversary March 20. He is a missionary priest from the Diocese of Taungngu (Taungoo), Myanmar. Father Lone entered the seminary at the age of 14. “The philosophy behind it is that the younger you are formed the better the outcome is achieved,” he said. He studied with The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, who were an order of Italian Missionary priests. “They were respected, well-educated gentlemen, mentors, very cultured, remarkable role models who also played soccer very well!” he said. “As a young man deciding within myself what path to embark upon, they represented everything I wanted to become and I credit my vocation to them.”
As a seminarian, one focus was to build the missionary spirit. In 2003, he was invited by the late Bishop George Fitzsimons to become a missionary priest in Northwest Kansas. While his grade school education was in British English, Father Saw Lone said he learned American English upon his arrival in the United States. “When the people see you as an approachable person, they welcome you and care for you as their priest,” he said of his decade in the Salina Diocese. “Living in rural Kansas came very natural to me as I myself was raised on a small farm in a village in Myanmar. The people here are wonderful. Since the beginning of my stay they have been warm and friendly. Many times they have brought me vegetables, invited me out fishing, to the rodeos and even to ride the combine during wheat, soy bean and sunflower harvests then into their homes for dinners and fellowship to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Yes, I feel at home and have comfortably grown to know and appreciate both parish communities during my priestly ministry over the last 10 years.”
Even with full life in Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Hill City and St. Joseph Parish in Damar, Father Saw Lone said he tries to enjoy some of his hobbies, including golf and tennis. “On my day off, I play golf and tennis with my friend-priests and parishioners amid whenever possible,” he said. During his seminary years, he enjoyed playing guitar, drums and keyboard, but said those hobbies have waned during his years as a priest. Although, “I composed a song that was sung by a national celebrity and as a result, I became quite well known due to that,” he said of his musical interests.
Father Saw Lone said there are many surprises throughout his years as a priest, including being called for emergencies and the ever-changing Kansas weather. “I am often surprised when I witness and realize the growth and strength of spirit and camaraderie in parishioners during the simplest and greater holy functions through their fellowship and in collaboration during events as one body of Christ,” he said. “For example during the Jubilee celebration … it was beyond my expectation. It is rewarding and heartfelt and in turn it strengthens my purpose and brings me great joy.”
He said his motto is “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you (1 Thessalonians 5:8),” and he said it’s served him well over the last 25 years. “The past 25 years have been joyful indeed,” Father Saw Lone said. “I thank God for the priesthood and the people I serve who are so wonderful. The life of a priest isn’t always easy, but in general it is a wonderful life, a joyful commitment. During these 25 years as a priest, I have found happiness, sadness, successes and failures. There are challenges and bumps, doubts and fears, but I will always remember what God is at my side and I don’t need to fear.”